Celebrating Healthier School Meals

This week is National School Lunch Week, a time to celebrate the school meal programs offering healthy, fresh and appealing meals to millions of students across the country.

The federal school meals program was established nearly 70 years ago, and as the science of nutrition has evolved so has the nutritional quality of these meals. The most recent changes created by the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 brought a renewed effort to provide students with a variety of healthy choices, including new flavors, such as kale salad as well as proven staples, like nutrient-rich milk.

In 1940, the Federal government began providing assistance to schools so they could offer milk to students. Back then, students paid just 1 cent for a half pint, and the government picked up the rest of the tab: somewhere between eight-tenths of a cent to 1 and one-third cents! Today, students continue to be offered milk as part of school meals, and they even get to pick their favorite variety. Under the updated meal standards, schools now offer a minimum of two options among low-fat and fat-free white or fat-free flavored varieties.

Combined with the whole grain, fruit, vegetables and lean protein requirements also included in the updated standards, today’s school meals reflect nutrition recommendations from pediatricians and the Institute of Medicine. More than 96 percent of schools are meeting these updated standards nationwide. As a result, school meals continue to help fight child hunger, promote health and prepare students to thrive in the classroom.

At United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), we’re excited about the progress we’ve seen.

  • Students are getting involved through taste testing and developing recipes for breakfast and lunch.
  • Schools are setting up farm to school arrangements to incorporate locally-sourced foods – including dairy foods – in school meals. As October is also Farm to School month, it’s a great time to learn more about the benefits and impacts of these programs.

And recent research from the Centers for Disease Control confirms these efforts are having a positive effect: Students who eat school meals are more likely to enjoy milk, fruits and vegetables during meal times.

We’re also enthusiastic about what’s to come. After attending one of our Team Up for School Nutrition Success workshops, which provides technical assistance to school nutrition professionals, a food service director from Alaska stated, “I’m excited to go back to my district and see what I can do to improve!”

USDA is committed to continuing to provide training as well as resources, grants and more to empower school nutrition professionals and maximize the benefits of the updated meal standards. And in honor of National School Lunch Week 2015, we want to say a big thank you to our partners, including National Dairy Council and the Fuel Up to Play 60 initiative, who do the same. Together, we can help raise a healthier generation.

Join the conversation about National School Lunch Week on social media using #NSLW.